At least three important political leaders have recently met the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, albeit in private and different circumstances, all three have confirmed to reporters of The News.

Coming amid growing speculation and widespread talk of political changes in the country, these meetings add a familiar dimension to the scenario, confirming that the Army leadership was as disturbed by the deteriorating situation as any patriotic Pakistani was.

PML-Q Senator SM Zafar, the same party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa leader Amir Muqaam and his own party chief, Pindi’s Sheikh Rashid Ahmed have been meeting General Kayani, some very recently and one a few weeks back.

When approached, SM Zafar said he did see General Kayani 2-3 months back, Amir Muqaam said he was related to General Kayani and meets him off and on, specially in Swat where the General has been paying frequent visits. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a senior journalist of The News a few days back he had a meeting with the general.

Details of these meetings are sketchy and obviously the politicians are reluctant to share what they talked but it is presumed that these meetings were held at the initiation of the politicians, specially in view of the refusal of the PPP government to realise the gravity of the situation and correct its course.

But one of the leaders who met General Kayani told his party colleagues that the Army chief was very concerned about the moves made by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in London and his decision to jump in politics and return to Pakistan.

At least, two PML-Q leaders have recently visited General Musharraf in London and asked him to delay his political moves because it would seriously embarrass his old institution and whatever few friends that may still be with him on any rank.

One of these leaders also donated a huge amount to the flood relief fund of General Musharraf but at the same time advised him not to make premature moves, which may embarrass him and others.

General Musharraf has been claiming that he has received massive donations from Pakistanis and he is calling it a referendum on his own popularity and credibility as compared to the miserable failure of the PPP government to collect funds from Pakistani and international donors.

Political sources said while these three meetings have been confirmed, several other political leaders are also in line seeking such meetings with the Army’s top brass but General Kayani has been reluctant to give the impression that he was in any way conspiring against the elected government by meeting political leaders.

The meetings of politicians with General Kayani, although they may have taken place not in any political setting or for any nefarious purpose of meddling in politics, do add a new element in the current fast changing situation in which known pro-establishment leaders and parties are making quick and swift, even surprising, moves.

Among these moves, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat rushed to Pir Pagara in Karachi and made up their differences, whatever they may have been.

The MQM, until before the assassination of Dr Imran Farooq, was on a roll, demanding direct military intervention to change the present system. After the murder, a sense of depression and concern is evident in the MQM circles and Karachi has again gone back to the target killing mode.

Even the reluctant PML-N has started shifting gears and on Monday made the surprise move to reopen channels of communications with the MQM when top leader Ishaq Dar met MQM leaders at Nine Zero and then had a one-on-one meeting with Governor Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad.

The MQM leadership in London, talking to me on phone, welcomed the PML-N gesture and a senior and close adviser of Altaf Hussain told me the PML-N move would lead to more meaningful and substantial contacts now that Mian Nawaz Sharif had changed his policy and reopened the doors for contacts.

The MQM leadership was waiting for the PML-N for a long time as they claimed that Mian Nawaz Sharif, in the London all parties conference, had closed all doors to the MQM. But nothing is permanent in politics.

Politicians who have discussed the outcome of these meetings with General Kayani told me on Monday night that the biggest concern expressed in the military circles was about the state of the economy and how the credibility and image of the PPP leadership had become a big obstacle in creating an atmosphere where other countries could help Pakistan generously.

Other sources said a number of economic experts have also been privately asked by the Army high command to keep the GHQ informed about the economic situation because the pressure being applied by the World Bank, the IMF and other donors to impose huge taxes and surcharges was likely to create major political unrest in the country.

One source said once the PPP government implemented the VAT, Income Tax surcharge and imports surcharge, prices and cost of living will rise by almost 50 percent and the already devastated people will be crushed under the burden. The government may not be able to sustain the pressure thus caused and may crumble. (The News International)